September 25, 2015

The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is alarmed by the decision of the Humanitarian Committee of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic to refuse permission for MSF to provide critical medical and humanitarian assistance in Lugansk. MSF is extremely concerned that this will deprive vulnerable people in Lugansk of access to essential health care and medicines.

"We find the decision unacceptable given the significant medical and humanitarian needs of people affected by the ongoing conflict in Lugansk," said Dr. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. "MSF has been one of the few international organizations providing vital assistance in Lugansk for more than a year. We have been dedicated to supporting doctors and nurses to be able to carry on their crucial work. As in all conflict zones where MSF works, our only aim has been to help vulnerable people, no matter their political beliefs or which side of the front line they find themselves on."

Since June 2014, MSF has supported 109 health and social facilities in Lugansk with essential medicines, medical supplies, equipment, hygiene materials, and relief items. Through mobile clinics in 35 locations, MSF teams have provided more than 42,000 primary health care consultations in conjunction with doctors from the public health service. MSF has donated medicines and medical supplies to treat up to 37,500 people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, as well as up to 4,900 war-wounded patients during periods of intense fighting. All health care and medicines have been given free of charge.

"Due to the conflict, the supply of medicines in Lugansk has been disrupted or cut for the last year and the price of available medicines has increased significantly," said Janssens. "We see that people struggle to access antibiotics, pain killers, insulin, psychiatric drugs, and medications for chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease. We are particularly concerned about people living near the front line. It is vulnerable people – elderly, sick, disabled, and displaced – who suffer most. We are deeply upset that we are not allowed to continue helping them, especially with many doctors and nurses having left front-line areas and with the coming winter."

All MSF's activities, including the transportation, storage, and distribution of medicines to health facilities, have been coordinated with and regularly reported to the health authorities in Lugansk. Following the decision of the Humanitarian Committee, MSF has closed its office in Lugansk and no longer has any staff present in the area under Lugansk People's Republic authority. Before leaving, MSF has donated its remaining stock of medicines for distribution to health facilities that urgently need them.  

"We have made every effort to be transparent and work in cooperation with the authorities," said Janssens. "We are therefore greatly disturbed that they have resorted to making false accusations about us in the media and tried to intimidate our team by bringing armed men into the office on multiple occasions in the last two weeks."

On September 16, MSF strongly refuted allegations made in media reports regarding the organization's management of pharmaceutical products, including psychotropic medications, in Lugansk. All MSF's medical activities have been carried out in coordination with the health authorities, including the transportation, storage, and distribution of medicines to health facilities. MSF had received no official notification of any alleged violations of regulations and fully cooperated with the authorities to try to resolve the situation. In line with medical protocols, psychotropic medications are an essential component of medical kits provided by MSF to health facilities where doctors treat war-wounded, patients with chronic conditions such as epilepsy, and people with mental illnesses. Each medical kit contains all the necessary supplies to appropriately treat patients and are distributed based on requests of the health facilities. All donations of medicines and medical supplies are coordinated with, and reported to, the health authorities. 

MSF is continuing its work on both sides of the front line throughout the east of the country, including in the area under the authority of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Since the beginning of the conflict, MSF has supported more than 350 health facilities on both sides of the front line with donations of medicines and medical equipment. Since May 2014, MSF teams have provided more than 102,000 primary health care consultations, medical supplies for treating more than 23,000 war-wounded patients, and medicines to treat more than 61,000 patients with chronic diseases. MSF has been running a drug-resistant tuberculosis program in Donetsk region since 2011, currently treating 196 patients with the disease in the penitentiary system.

MSF is an international nongovernmental humanitarian organization dedicated to providing free humanitarian and medical assistance to victims of conflict, natural disasters, or epidemics and people excluded from the health care system. MSF was founded in 1971 and provides assistance in more than 60 countries. MSF does not take sides in any conflict, is independent of all political and military and corporate agendas, and provides medical care to people on the basis of need alone, regardless of gender, race, religion, or political affiliation. MSF relies only on private donations for its work in Ukraine and does not accept funding from any government.

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